“The Many Mysteries of Manuel Enos” by Stuart M. Frank, Ph.D.

The Many Mysteries of Manuel Enos

by Stuart M. Frank, Ph.D., Senior Curator

This article is reprinted from the recently published Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill, Fall 2009

In any genre of the arts there are always a few individuals whose work and reputations stand out as exceptional, setting a standard by which the achievements of others are measured.  There also tend to be a few whose work has been overlooked or underappreciated and may deserve wider recognition.  When it comes to scrimshaw, the incidence of such Unsung Miltons (to paraphrase the poet Thomas Gray) is disproportionately high, in part because the genre itself is so little known and in part because so much of it is anonymous.  Thus, in addition to such celebrated scrimshaw masters as Edward Burdett (1805-1833), Frederick Myrick (1808-1862), Henry Daggett (1811-1873), and N.S. Finney (1813-1879), we have whalemen-practitioners who are known only by their work and have been given epithetical monikers to distinguish them from the crowd – Albatross Artisan, Banknote Portraitist, Lambeth Busk Engraver, Naval Engagement Engraver, Pagoda Artisan, and so on.  Certainly, the Ship Java Artist – now known by name as Manuel Enos – deserves to be listed among the select few, as one of the outstanding scrimshaw makers and arguably the greatest Azorean whaleman-artist of all time.

A remarkable pair of sperm whale teeth scrimshawed aboard the bark Java of New Bedford in 1862 came into the Kendall Collection many years ago but, despite the elaborate inscriptions on the backs, the artist had not been identified.  They are gloriously engraved.  On the fronts are brilliantly colored female figures.  One is Rebecca at the Well, an Old Testament matriarch in full flower of youth, dressed in sumptuous Middle Eastern garb [Fig. 1]; the other is a patriotic image of Columbia, a classic nude majestically and demurely draped in an American flag [Fig. 2]. The inscriptions specify the whens and wherefores of the voyage and the whale but fail to name the artist: “Captured / Bark Java / of / New Bedford / Capt. E.B. Phinney” and “Jan. 25th / 1862 / Off King Geo[rge] Sound / Western Coast / of / Australia” [Fig. 3].  Only after close scrutiny of the crew lists and comparison with examples of scrimshaw in other collections did it become evident that the perpetrator was Manuel Enos, one of the most colorful, one of the best known, and at the same time one of the most mysterious celebrities in the whaling annals. [1]]

Enos was a curious fellow.  There are several not entirely harmonious aspects of his elusive biography that dominate any view of his character; and these, in the end, turn out to provide only an incomplete picture.  An Azorean immigrant who ascended to the top of his profession as the master of New Bedford whaleships, he was well-regarded and generally well-liked both as a shipmaster at sea and as a local man-about-town on Long Island.  His career was unique and intermittent, he was cheerful and gregarious but his actions were equivocal, his motives fraught with mystery, and he seems never to have written down anything that would help reveal the inner man.  Even after a half-dozen biographers have made the attempt to penetrate the mystique, the outstanding features remain the superb quality of his art (which we knew going in) and his erratic and eccentric activities at sea and ashore, which remain enigmatic.  Several mysteries linger, and of those that have been solved, the solutions are less than satisfactory, raising as many questions as they answer.

First there is the matter of his birth.  There has never been any doubt that he was born in the Azores Islands, but according to Robert Farwell[2] (and hence my own More Scrimshaw Artists[3]) he was born on the island of Graciosa circa 1827; the 1860 U.S. Census for Huntington, Long Island, has him born on the island of Fayal circa 1826; and Donald Warrin[4] turned up family sources indicating that Enos was born in Lajes, on the island of Pico, on 22 May 1826, one of eleven children of José Inácio Macedo and Maria Carmo.[5] The latter is almost certainly accurate.

Manuel’s early years are almost completely unknown.  However, the details of how he came to be a whaleman and to settle on Long Island can be partly reconstructed by working backwards from the few documented shards of his career.  He was third mate in the whaleship Huntsville of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, during 1851-54, and he was also on the immediately previous voyage of the same vessel during 1849-51.  That he was a mate on that second Huntsville voyage indicates that he must have been at least a boatsteerer (harpooner) on the previous voyage, which indicates that it could not have been his first.  One did not become a boatsteerer without prior experience: too many shipmate’s lives, incomes, and morale depended upon the harpooners’ seasoning and skill.  In order to qualify as a boatsteerer in 1849 he must have made at least one prior voyage as ordinary seaman or green hand, perhaps in the Sheffield, as Richard C. Malley suggests.[6] Also, that first Huntsville voyage does not account for how Enos came to America in the first place.  Enos sailed in the Huntsville from Cold Spring Harbor on both occasions, so he must have been there already; therefore, he must have been to sea at least once before, on the voyage that ultimately brought him to New York – probably, like so many of his fellow islanders, signing articles or stowing away on some American whaler calling at the Azores; perhaps the Sheffield.  On that first voyage he would have acquired the experience that might qualify him for a boatsteerer’s berth on the Huntsville.

Once having landed on Long Island, he settled in the hamlet of Cold Spring Harbor, part of the town of Huntington.  Warrin’s speculation is almost certainly correct that Enos must have met his future wife, Susan Brush, while he was ashore briefly between voyages in 1851, because he married her shortly after he returned in the Huntsville three years later.  He arrived in April 1854, celebrated his 28th birthday in May, was naturalized a U.S. citizen in June, married Susan in July, and sailed again in September, this time as a boatsteerer in the Sheffield (1854-59).  This was in itself an unusual reversion after having already made a successful voyage as third mate.  On the Sheffield, “‘Big Manuel’ is said to have been a member of ‘the heaviest whaleboat crew in the history of American whaling,’ numbering, in addition to Enos, three Cold Spring Harbor men, a Hawaiian, and a Montauk Indian, who in the aggregate ‘supposedly averaged 225 lbs. [93 kg], a keel snapping total of 1,350 pounds [558 kg] for the six men in the boat’s crew!’”[7]

His next voyages were the ones for which Enos is best remembered in history, literature, and the arts: first mate (1860-64), then captain (1864-69) of the New Bedford bark Java. A young sailor named Joshua Fillebrown Beane was on both Java voyages and later published an articulate narrative in which, in an excess of literary license, he conflated the two voyages into one, mixing up many of his shipmates’ names, combining two or more into a single character, and leaving out others entirely.[8] Thus, while Beane’s is one of the most literate, colorful, and informative of all American whaling chronicles, and provides an insightful assessment of the captain in action, as well as what may be the only likeness of Enos – a small ink drawing by the author himself [Fig. 4] – it is not strictly factual and perpetrates some misimpressions.  One is that Enos was the captain on both voyages: Beane makes no mention of Edward B. Phinney, the real captain during 1860-64 – the voyage on which Enos was actually the first mate and did the scrimshaw of Columbia and Rebecca.  Another is the speed and efficiency with which, under Enos’s patronage, Beane rocketed from green hand to second mate in the space of a single voyage.  That it actually happened over the course of two voyages is remarkable enough, but it would have been an incredible achievement in only one.  Meanwhile, it is clear that celestial navigation and logbook-keeping were not Captain Enos’s strongest suits; and that Washington Fosdick, ship’s steward, a fellow scrimshaw artist who was thirty years older than any other member of the crew, regularly assisted the captain with his calculations and also taught the young, well-educated Beane celestial navigation.  But Fosdick was ailing (he died on the voyage at age 60 in 1869, and was buried in a shallow grave on the Okhotsk seacoast of Siberia).  In the meantime, all along, Captain Enos had increasingly come to rely upon his young protégé, Joshua Beane, whom he elevated to second mate.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Enos and Fosdick were hardly the only scrimshaw-makers on the Java.  Beane speaks about scrimshaw in some detail, as though just about everyone on board were doing it.  There was evidently plenty of “scrimshoning” going on:

Another, and very interesting way of passing dull hours on board a whaler is “scrimshoning.”  This word, coined by the whaling fraternity for their private use, encompasses the making of everything from a plain ivory bodkin to the most elaborate inlay work imaginable.  Boxes of fancy woods of different kinds inlaid with other woods, with pearl cut into diamonds, squares, crescents, and leaves, with silver, ivory, and bone, in designs simple or elaborate, as the taste of the maker might suggest… Canes were made of ebony or other wood, of white bone from the jaw of the sperm whale, and of ivory from the teeth of the same animal… Swifts were manufactured of bone and ivory, riveted with silver wire, designed especially for a sweetheart or wife… Whales’ teeth were ornamented with etchings and engravings in colors, many of them of more than ordinary merit.

Oddly, Beane never mentions Enos in this context.  In fact, he refers specifically to only one of the crew in connection with scrimshaw, and never by name but only as “the carpenter” and as “Chips” (the sailors’ universal nickname for ship’s carpenters).  From crew lists it is clear that he was William Martin from upstate New York, age 29 at the beginning of the voyage – thus a good bit older than most of the men.  Beane calls him “the best workman we had on board, and the most industrious,” but also an example of a rare compulsion among some whalemen to rid themselves of the fruits of their labor as soon as they arrive on shore, regardless of the time and energy expended in producing them: “‘Old Chips’… made it a rule to sell everything that he had manufactured during the season at the first port entered.”  Beane reflects in greater detail upon another, unnamed shipmate afflicted with the same syndrome:

I have known the labors of a six months’ cruise to be disposed of for a few dollars or even shillings, and the proceeds spent in drink, in [fewer] hours than the months required to make the articles sacrificed.  One case, I remember, where a very ingenious fellow worked all his spare time during a three years’ voyage in making an ivory ship.  The hull was ten inches [25 cm] long, modeled from a walrus tusk.  The spars and sails were carved from whales’ teeth.  Every block and boom was in its proper place.  Altogether it was a nearly perfect piece of workmanship.  At the last port before sailing home his appetite for drink got the better of him and he sold this specimen of his handiwork for three pounds ($15.00) and before the day was gone had spent the last farthing.

After the two Java voyages Enos retired from whaling – temporarily, as it turned out – and spent a few years ashore.  Warrin has catalogued his various business activities during 1859-77: storekeeper; master of the coastwise schooner Flyaway; and manager of a tannery and kid-leather factory.  According to Farwell, he was also master of the schooner Francis Smith.  In all of these Enos was presumably the sole owner or principal shareholder.  Accordingly, in light of Enos’s chronic restlessness and evident unhappiness in these ventures, it is difficult not to agree with Farwell’s compelling assessment, which is also quoted by Warrin: “Behind the façade of success … lay Captain Enos’ permanent failure to cope with life ashore, and real inability to transfer his skills as a whaleman to the supervision of other businesses.”[9] Subsequent events suggest that this may have applied equally well to his marriage and homelife.

The biggest mystery of his life – now ostensibly solved – concerns misimpressions likely created or encouraged by Enos himself about the endgame of his career and what was hitherto believed to be his death.  Dissatisfied ashore, he pulled up stakes and went to sea again in 1877 as first mate in the New Bedford bark George and Susan (1877-80).  A family genealogy insists that he died at sea in 1878,[10] which would have been on this voyage; but it is clear that he sailed again in 1880 as first mate in the New Bedford bark John and Winthrop, and that he resigned from that berth in 1882 at Talcahuano, Chile, to accept an appointment as captain of the former Dartmouth, Massachusetts bark Matilda Sears, now renamed in Chilean ownership.  The usual story is that in 1882 Enos sailed off on a whaling voyage as captain of the Matilda Sears, now renamed Machias Bramas, and neither ship nor captain was ever heard from again.  As Warrin puts it, “Even the most exacting historians of Cold Spring Harbor and its whaling industry have insisted that Enos … disappeared on the high seas with the vessel and crew.”

Warrin has now uncovered convincing evidence that the old story is a complete fabrication.  It turns out that Machias Bramas was a garbled misnomer for Mathieu y Brañas, namesake of the firm of Chilean whaling agents who took over the Matilda Sears; and Warrin cites a Chilean source for the claim that the vessel “continued to form part of the small Chilean whaling fleet operating out of Talcahuano until it was finally retired at the port of Paita, Peru, in 1905.”[11]

Meanwhile, Enos himself had a name change and was reborn into a new life.  “Manuel Ignacio Enos de Macedo – as he became known in Talcahuano” evidently “continued to whale out of Talcahuano on vessels owned by Mathieu y Brañas well into the next decade,” and he “met and eventually married a young local woman, María Petronila Araneda, with whom he had six children and thus ended his days as the scion of a Chilean Enos family,” though they did not actually marry until after Susan’s death in 1904.  He died in bed two months short of his 89th birthday in March 1915.  Warrin also provides the coda:

Today there is a street in the town [of Talcahuano] named in the honor of “Capitán Enos”… Both the name of Manuel Enos and the seafaring tradition continued with Big Manuel’s son, Manuel I. Enos Araneda and the latter’s son, Manuel Enos Sosa, who, beginning in 1939, spent almost sixty years at sea, many of them as master of merchant vessels.[12]


[1] As noted in my book More Scrimshaw Artists (Mystic, Ct.: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1998), Enos is credited with the two extraordinary teeth shown here [Figs. 1-3] as well as another standing female figure on a whale tooth in the Kendall Collection (all three are exhibited in our Azores Whaling Gallery); and four pieces in the collection of the Whaling Museum at Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: a pair of large walrus tusks stipple-engraved on the next voyage of the Java, and a pair of teeth beautifully engraved with full-length female portraits, illustrated in Richard C. Malley, In Their Hours of Ocean Leisure: Scrimshaw in the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum (Cold Spring Harbor: Whaling Museum Society, 1993).

[2] Robert D. Farwell, “Manuel Enos: Cold Spring Whaleman,” Long Island Forum (June 1981), 108f.

[3] Frank, Op. cit.

[4] Donald Warrin, So Ends This Day: Portuguese in American Whaling, 1765-1927 (forthcoming, Fall 2009).  The book is a comprehensive overview that also provides excellent biographical sketches of Manuel Enos and others.

[5] Rafael Enos Aguirre, “Orígenes e historia de la familia Enos,” private document; Rafael Enos Aguirre to Donald Warrin, email, 18 Mar 2009.

[6] Richard C. Malley, Op. cit., p. 24.

[7] Frank, Op. cit.; quoted from Farwell, Op. Cit., p. 108, who indicates that the yarn may be apocryphal.

[8] Joshua Fillebrown Beane, From Forecastle to Cabin: The Story of a cruise in many seas, taken from a journal kept each day, wherein was recorded the happenings of a voyage around the world in pursuit of whales (New York, 1905).

[9] Farwell, Op. cit., p. 109.

[10] Ancestry.com. awt.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=viccork&id=I6021

[11] Sandoval Hernández, “Talcahuano y los últimos balleneros” [Talcahuano and the Last Whalers], n.d.

[12] For these clarifications of Enos’s latter-day circumstances, Warren cites: Rafael Enos Aguirre to Warrin, email, 29 Sept 2007 and 18 Mar 2009; Aguirre, “Orígenes e historia de la familia Enos” (private document); and “El Mar fue mi universidad,” Manuel Enos Sosa, interview by Macarena Rojas Gómez, in the digital magazine La Columna, 19 Sept 2004.

One response to ““The Many Mysteries of Manuel Enos” by Stuart M. Frank, Ph.D.

  1. Rebecca Scarberry

    I think I might have met you in the 70’s at a knife & gun show. Travis Hulsey introduced me to you or whoever because he wanted you to see a piece of scrimshaw I had done on Corian tile. You/or whoever, said you wanted that piece of mine in your next book & to mail a pic to you. I failed to do so.In the 1st book by (who ever it was) stated that many scrimshanders were using Corian. This meeting was in Calif. Do you think it might have been you & what do you think of scrimshaw on Corian?

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